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Considering a career change to follow your dream?

Quitting Your Day Job? Things to think about before you take the plunge.

Considering a career change… Becoming an entrepreneur, following your dream, your passion, and doing great things… Before taking a decision, there are practical aspects of that equation that can be enormously challenging to overcome. First, most of us are gainfully employed. It isn’t easy to just pick up and leave a career we’ve invested in, whether it’s the right move or not. Then there’s the risk factor. It’s hard to risk a sure thing for an unknown, especially later in life. Nevertheless, there’s a lot to be said for following your dream. You may not get rich, but you will enrich your life. And at least one school of thought says that you’ll be more successful doing what you love doing than anything else. I couldn’t agree more. I did several important career changes, I started out as an engineer, then became an investment banker, now a marketing manager for a technology firm. Although it’s been quite a challenge, it’s also been incredibly satisfying and invigorating. But before you jump, you have to do a few things; they will help you make the right call.

What are your objectives, your priorities?

You’ve really got to figure out what your motivation is. What are you trying to prove and to whom? Understanding what your true motives and goals are will help you and your family–an important part of the equation, by the way–to assess the risk and make the right decision. It’ll also help you avoid waking up down the road and realizing you made a change for all the wrong reasons, like “the grass is always greener.”

Finding the real you

You’re not really trying to change as much as you’re trying to find the real you, the path you were meant for, not someone else’s path. Once you find the real you, everything get easier. However if changing your DNA, so to speak, is a prerequisite for your career shift, I wouldn’t do it unless you’ve got a considerable financial safety net.

Look for problems, not solutions

Most entrepreneurs are people looking to do something new and different; they search for ideas, for solutions. That’s usually the wrong place to start. What you need to find first is a problem that you feel passionate about solving, one that you’re uniquely qualified to solve. One of the most important questions venture capitalists ask when evaluating an enterprise is: Does it solve a big problem? Does it eliminate a customer pain point? Does it help customers either do something they really want to do but never could, or do something far better, easier, or less expensively than ever before? Another way to think of it: Don’t try to do something great. Not initially. Just try to find a problem you think needs to be solved and do that.

Financial Context

I don’t care what anyone says: tossing out years of experience in one career to jump to a new one, perhaps even an entrepreneurial endeavor, is extremely risky. Best case, you will take a financial hit. And you have to be prepared for various not-so-best-case scenarios, as well, especially if you’ve got a family to support. We have responsibilities, a mortgage to pay, kids to raise and put through college. Of course, money shouldn’t be your primary motivation, but you shouldn’t throw caution to the wind, either. Look at fields and industries that have more than a snowball’s chance in hell of you making it and making ends meet. Go for growth markets in which venture capital firms are investing, for example.

Find a great team

There is tremendous power in groups–at least the right groups. The same goes for complementary partnerships. Find a wingman, or be somebody else’s wingman. Find a great team to be a part of or create one. Most successful start-ups have more than one founder. Bill Gates had Paul Allen. Google’s Larry Page had Sergey Brin. It’s true in any field. It took four extraordinary people who seemed anything but extraordinary at the time to make the Beatles. And when you’re doing something new or making a change, support is key.

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